Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

American Physician, Professor and Dean of Medical School at Harvard, Man of Letters, Poet and Author publishing "Breakfast Table" Essays

"A man's opinions are generally of much more value than his arguments."

"Apologizing - a very desperate habit - one that is rarely cured. Apology is only egotism wrong side out."

"Conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a centre is to a circle. But little-minded people’s thoughts move in such small circles that five minute’s’ conversation gives you an arc long enough to determine their whole curve. An arc in the movement of a large intellect does not differ sensibly from a straight line."

"Don’t be “consistent,” but be simply true."

"Faith loves to lean on time’s destroying arm."

"Humility is the first of the virtues - for other people."

"Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power, that is all."

"Life is a romantic business. It is painting a picture, not doing a sum; but you have to make the romance, and it will come to the question how much fire you have in your belly."

"Most people think dramatically, not quantitatively."

"Most persons have died before they expire - died to all earthly longings, so that the last breath is only, as it were, the locking of the door of the already deserted mansion."

"Our reverence is good for nothing if it does not begin with self-respect."

"People who honestly mean to be true really contradict themselves much more rarely than those who try to be "consistent.""

"Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust."

"Tears, except as a private demonstration, are an ill-disguised expression of self-consciousness and vanity, which is inadmissible in good society."

"The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving."

"The longing for certainty and repose is in every human mind. But certainty is generally illusion and repose is not the destiny of man."

"The noblest service comes from nameless hands, and the best servant does his work unseen."

"The secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that, a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men whoever heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought."

"To live is to function."

"Trouble makes us one with every human being in the world."

"Under bad manners, as under graver faults, lies very commonly an overestimate of our special individuality, as distinguished form our generic humanity."

"We are all tatooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of the superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them."

"We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe."

"Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend."

"A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience."

"A child's education should begin at least 100 years before he is born."

"A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of association."

"All fact-collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict: their best illumination comes from above, through the skylight."

"All is holy where devotion kneels."

"Any new formula which suddenly emerges in our consciousness has its roots in long trains of thought; it is virtually old when it first makes its appearance among the recognized growths of our intellect."

"As knowledge advances, science ceases to scoff at religion; and religion ceases to frown on science. The hour of mockery by the one, and of reproof by the other, is passing away. Henceforth, they will dwell together in unity and good-will. They will mutually illustrate the wisdom, power, and grace of God. Science will adorn and enrich religion; and religion will ennoble and sanctify science."

"Every year we have to wager our salvation on some prophecy based on imperfect knowledge."

"Envy not the old man the tranquillity of his existence, nor yet blame him if it sometimes looks like apathy. Time, the inexorable, does not threaten him with the scythe so often as with the sand-bag. He does not cut, but he stuns and stupefies."

"Do not be bullied out of your common sense by the specialist; two to one, he is a pedant."

"If your name is to live at all, it is so much more to have it live in people's hearts than only in their brains!"

"It is mere childishness to expect men to believe as their fathers did; that is, if they have any minds of their own. The world is a whole generation older and wiser than when the father was of his son's age."

"It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen."

"Knowledge and timber shouldn't be much used till they are seasoned."

"If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don't embrace trouble; that's as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you'll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it."

"Faith always implies the disbelief of a lesser fact in favor of a greater. A little mind often sees the unbelief, without seeing the belief of a large one."

"In the whole range of human vision nothing is more attractive than to see a young man full of promise and of hope, bending all his energies in the direction of truth and duty and God, his soul pervaded with the loftiest enthusiasm, and his life consecrated to the noblest ends. To be such a young man is to rival the noblest and best of men in heroic valor."

"Give us the luxuries of life and we'll dispense with the necessaries."

"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up."

"Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil."

"Men are idolaters and want something to look at and kiss and hug, or throw themselves down before; they always did, they always will; and if you don't make it of wood, you must make it of words."

"Nothing can be so perfect while we possess it as it will seem when remembered."

"Reason may be the lever, but sentiment gives you the fulcrum and the place to stand on if you want to move the world."

"Science is the topography of ignorance."

"Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall."

"Language is a solemn thing: it grows out of life - out of its agonies and ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined."